Richard Thaler is recognised as one of the fathers of Behavioural Economics, which seeks to discover and influence real-world human behaviour. His work as both a professor and consultant gave rise to his basic advice of ‘if you want people to do something, make it easy’. His (and others) work in this area has resulted in a number of teams that work in the area, most notably the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) of the UK government.
The BIT team came up with the ‘EAST’ framework of ways to ‘nudge’ people towards making better decisions.
Easy: if you want people to do something, make it easy
- Recognise the power of defaults.
- Reduce the ‘hassle factor’ or ‘friction costs’ of taking up a service.
- Make messages simple.
Attractive: draw attention to, and make attractive, the thing you want people to do
Social: show people that the desired behaviour is normal
- Don’t inadvertently reinforce problematic behaviour.
- Use the power of networks.
- Encourage people to make a commitment to others.
Timely: at different moments, the exact same offer can have drastically different effects
- People will often put much more weight in immediate costs/benefits rather than later ones.
- Habits are much easier to build (from scratch) rather than break.
This framework is a helpful touchpoint for churches, most obviously in pastoral ministries. There are a huge amount of books, strategies and resources out there to help ministers in pastoral care, and many of them include similar principles. However, I think there are other areas of church life where this framework is currently ignored, most notably when it comes to technology. I want to outline a few areas where churches can take note and apply this framework in a helpful way. There are a lot of ways these areas could be improved by thinking through this framework, so these examples are by no means exhaustive. However, I hope they will provide a helpful reference.
Communication in churches is often very informative, however, it can lack the elements that allow it to effectively cause action.
Consider an announcement from the pulpit about the upcoming church weekend away. The announcer might describe the wonderful speaker, the topic, the wonderful time last year was and the fact that the kids will be part of the kids’ program. This obeys the second principle (attractive), however, if certain information, like the date and the location, is left off, it is much harder for someone to immediately decide they want to come along. Furthermore, it is helpful to consider what more you could do to make it EASY for someone to sign up. Consider announcing that you will be available for questions down the front of the church after, or even directing people to a laptop you have set up ready to take registrations and payment.
Email newsletters can also suffer from similar problems. Taking a similar example to above, if you inform people about the upcoming weekend away, but direct people to email the minister if they are interested, not only do I need to find out what the minister’s email address is, but there seems to be many steps to the process of signing up. Much better to direct people to a website with all the information and a form they can sign up to. However, even that can be improved! Why not provide a link in the text of the email that allows people to click and land directly on the signup form for the event?
Websites form an essential function in the life of the church. It allows church members to find out information about various events and ministries. It also allows newcomers to find the church and attend the service.
However, if the newcomer lands on the website but cannot immediately find out when and where you meet, it is no longer easy to get the information they need in order to attend! This is an essential tool the church has (its website) failing to further an essential mission of the church. Furthermore, in order to put principle 2 (Attractive) and principle 3 (Social) into action, the church website could show an inclusive and loving community. Displaying photos, a video or providing written testimonials can all demonstrate a loving and caring community that is attractive to the outsider.
Another common way website’s fail at principal 1 (Easy) is if it’s really hard for a user to find their way around the site. Lot’s of menu items, or buttons that don’t tell what function they serve, significantly detract from the ease of use of a website. We’ve written more about Church website design and principles in this post on The Essential Website.
Volunteering and Training
I think there are a few examples of ways the volunteering and training processes can be adapted. The most obvious would be to make sure it is as easy as possible for people to sign up to the roster (‘Tick the box on the card you were given on the way in’). Another helpful way is to emphasise the social aspect of volunteering, making it attractive (‘A great way to get involved in our community is to serve on a roster’).
Once people are involved in volunteering, the job doesn’t stop. Setting up defined structures that give people direction and support allows the volunteering to be ‘easy’ and encourages continued service. For instance, you could ensure that each volunteering department has a team leader, or you could create guides and checklists for the volunteers to follow. Similarly, ensuring the team maintains social aspects will increase engagement (get those sound guys talking to the band – not sitting up the back by themselves).
Providing training structures, either formal or informal, makes the role more attractive, as the volunteers are able to grow and develop their skills. This training should start early in the service of the volunteer, at a level that is accessible to them (particularly in technical positions). Following principle 4 (Timely), demonstrating how the skills being taught are relevant helps set up good habits for the future. (Training can also be a great way to involve your professional techies in a greater capacity, see our blog here).
Behavioural Economics sounds technical and dry, but as we have seen it can actually be a helpful perspective to refer to occasionally in order to develop a church’s effectiveness. By applying this framework to church life, from pastoral ministry to the use of technology, church leaders will be able to develop resources and ideas to bring the gospel to bear in people’s lives.